Today was Day II of President Obama’s visit to Israel. He started the day off with a visit to the old, immediately followed by a visit to the new. He started off visiting the Shrine of the Book and then inspected a special exhibit set up to showcase cutting-edge Israeli technology. Obama spent a few minutes at each of the booth setups. He asked a variety of questions and seeming to be genuinely engaged. Some of the more interesting exhibits included an Israeli invention to allow partially paralyzed people to walk using a robotic exoskeleton. Greeting Obama at that exhibit were a handicapped American Army veteran and a paralyzed Israeli veteran. The President saw a robotic snake that can maneuver through a destroyed building to help locate survivors, as well its tiny snake sibling that can be used by surgeons to deftly navigate through the body.
After exploring each of the exhibits, Obama headed off to Ramallah for a meeting with PM Abbas. That meeting was all business– with none of the warmth of the Israeli visit– and as one Israeli observer stated: The meeting in Ramallah seemed aimed more at the Israelis than at the Palestinians. Obama called for “a resumption of talks without preconditions”, thus dropping the precondition for a settlement freeze.
President Obama then met with Palestinian a group of youth. After this meeting, Obama returned to Jerusalem, where he spoke at Binyanei Ha’uma to a mostly young audience. His speech had two main parts. In the first part of the speech, he showered Israelis with love and talked about the eternal ties between the US and Israel. The President talked about the Iranian threat, and that he would not allow the Iranians to build nuclear weapons. He went on and said “And today, I want to tell you– particularly the young people– so that there's no mistake here, so long as there is a United States of America – ‘Atem lo levad’. You are not alone. “ President Obama then went on to talk of the need to achieve peace.
He stated there would be no peace until the Palestinians accepted the idea that there must be two states for two people, and that Israel was the home of the Jewish people. However, he continued that Israel needed to pursue peace. He stated that first of all Israel needed it. “Because no wall is high enough and no Iron Dome is strong enough or perfect enough to stop every enemy that is intent on doing so from inflicting harm”… President Obama further stated: “Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.“
The President continued and stated that we need to pursue peace because it was the just thing to do. The Palestinians deserve to have a state of their own. He went on and gave a powerful argument to illustrate his point: “Put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of their own. (Applause). Living their entire lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements not just of those young people but their parents, their grandparents, every single day.”
Obama then went on to quote Ariel Sharon: “It is impossible to have a Jewish Democratic state, and at the same time control all of Eretz Israel. If we insist on fulfilling the dream in its entirety, we are liable to lose it all.”
Finally, President Obama continued with saying that Israel needs to pursue peace because it was possible. He was realistic to say “I can’t even say that it is more likely than not, but it is possible.”
President Obama ended by talking about the potential benefits of peace, and how Israelis must do all they can to achieve the sort of state that was possible if we lived in peace. All-in-all a remarkable speech…and one that no Israeli politician has been able to lay out so coherently. Tzipi Livni was interviewed as she arrived at the President’s house for tonight’s State Dinner. Livni stated that the President delivered a great speech, and that Obama had translated into English what she had been saying during the election campaign. Unfortunately, that was not true. I heard Livni during the campaign… and IF she– or any other Israeli politician– knew how to speak like Obama did and tie together the various strands of the central arguments like Obama did, we would have a very different government today.
Tonight the mutual “lovefest” continued at the State Dinner, hosted at the Presidents’ Residence.